Archos 101 Platinum £199
8th Jan 2014 | 12:44
Archos's latest full-sized tablet is cheap in every sense of the word
With a number of Android manufacturers finding success in the budget 7-inch tablet market, there seems to be plenty of scope for an affordable full-sized option. The Archos 101 Platinum is the latest to chance its hand in this relatively uncontested category.
For your £199 you get a 10.1-inch stock Android 4.2.2 tablet powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core processor. What's not to like? Plenty, as it turns out.
While £200 might sound favourable compared to the likes of the £329 iPad 2, the £319 Google Nexus 10, and the £300 Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1, it has to be considered alongside the tablet's tacky design and sub-standard components.
Archos isn't exactly renowned for creating desirable premium devices, and the Archos 101 Platinum doesn't do much to change that view. While it takes a step towards the solid-but-unspectacular designs of Samsung, it also feels a bit like one of those pre-tablet edutainment toys you used to get in the '90s.
Other than an all-glass front, its edging is made from an unpleasantly grubby-feeling plastic that's almost beige, and the 10.1-inch display looks as if it's been slotted into the rest of the unit with crude plastic clips.
In fact, that turns out to be precisely the case. Upon pulling my review tablet out of its box, there appeared to be odd vents or grilles on the top and bottom edges (see picture below).
Closer inspection revealed that the front section containing the display wasn't slotted into place properly. Sure enough, a bit of direct pressure in the appropriate sections and everything clicked into place.
If you can imagine the experience of putting on a slightly stubborn Tupperware lid, you'll understand how this felt. It's far from reassuring in a tablet that costs the same as a Google Nexus 7.
Despite these cheap and not-so-cheerful materials, the Archos 101 Platinum isn't what you'd call a lightweight device. In fact, at 636g it's only slightly lighter than the 652g iPad 4 with its rock-solid build and metallic rear cover. It's a fair bit heavier than the 603g Nexus 10 and excellent 469g iPad Air, too.
At almost exactly 10mm thick, the 101 Platinum is a pretty average handful for a full-sized tablet, sitting somewhere between the two aforementioned devices.
As is the case with virtually all full-sized Android tablets, the Archos 101 Platinum is most at home being held in landscape view. Its sheer size and 16:10 aspect ratio makes it feel slightly ridiculous when held in portrait view, and Archos has aligned its branding and the front and rear cameras accordingly.
Speaking of those cameras, the conspicuous front-facing example here is slightly, but noticeably off-centre, and destined to attract numerous double takes as users try to establish whether their eyes are playing tricks on them. It really is slightly skew-whiff.
Coupled to a lack of visual flair, Archos is also known for its no-nonsense utilitarian approach to connectivity and usability. This can be seen here in the fact that all of the 101 Platinum's connectors and hardware buttons have been piled onto the one side of the device.
On the one hand, this means that you'll quickly learn where to go when you need to make an adjustment of some kind. On the other hand, you'll find yourself fumbling and turning over the device just to identify the appropriate slot.
Here you'll find the cheap-feeling (there's that word again) power and volume buttons, which are at least sensibly located nearest the corner for reasonable no-look access.
Then there's the microUSB connection, Micro-HDMI connection, microSD slot (the 101 Platinum only comes with 8GB of internal storage, so you'll need it), power port (no, the microUSB slot doesn't fill that role) and 3.5mm headphone jack.
Did I miss anything? They're all labeled, but on the rear cover of the device, which means that you'll need to flip it over completely if you need guidance.
There are no physical hardware keys on the front of the Archos 101 Platinum, as the company has fully embraced the stock Android ideal of virtual back, home, and multitasking/menu controls.
Moving back to the Archos 101 Platinum's 10.1-inch display for a moment, it turns out to be similarly out of date as the rest of the tablet. While it's an IPS panel, enabling decent viewing angles, that counts for little when the 1280 x 800 resolution is so underwhelming.
With a pixel density of just 160ppi, the 101 Platinum's display is roughly half as sharp as the Google Nexus 10's. It's also over 100ppi off the iPad Air. As Apple found with the original iPad mini, you can just about get away with such a lack of sharpness on a more compact tablet, but blown up to a full 10.1 inches you can pick out the pixels a mile off.
Colours also appear a little washed out and lacking that pop factor. For a full-sized tablet designed for multimedia content, the 101 Platinum certainly doesn't shine when displaying films or games. It's okay in this regard, but I'd rather watch and play on a slightly smaller, sharper display such as the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9.
I should also note that there's a disconcerting crackle that emerges from the tinny single speaker from time to time, usually when initiating something soon after emerging from sleep mode.
Interface and performance
Arguably the strongest aspect of the Archos 101 Platinum is that it offers a pure, unadulterated Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean experience out of the box.
This means that in spite of the 101 Platinum's hardware shortcomings, it still feels like a relatively modern and thoroughly flexible tablet. Android Jelly Bean is an excellent mobile operating system, whichever way you cut it.
You can read in more depth about the Android Jelly Bean OS in TechRadar's review, suffice to say it's simultaneously powerful and very easy to use. It's an icon-driven interface in a similar fashion to iOS 7 on the iPad, with the key difference being the ability to add widgets to your five home screens.
These are effectively expanded app icons that contain live information from the apps they represent.
Meanwhile, you can drag down two menu overlays from the top of the screen. At the top left you have the main notification bar, which summarises and informs you off any incoming messages. These can be emails, social network posts, or details on available app updates in the Google Play Store.
Each of these notifications can be tapped to jump to the relevant app, or they can simply be dismissed with a swipe. Some of them can be interacted with directly - so for example you can reply to an incoming Gmail message direct from the notification bar.
The other drag-down menu, at the top-right of the screen, relates to Android's settings menu. This grants you quick access to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles, and the like.
Unlike iOS, there's a separate app tray, accessible from a dedicated virtual button at the bottom of the home screen, which takes you to a list of your installed apps. It's through here that you can also set up those aforementioned widgets.
Another thing that Android Jelly Bean handles well is multitasking. Hit the virtual multitasking button in the black bar along the bottom of the interface and you'll be presented with a horizontal list of thumbnails.
These relate directly to recently opened apps, which are retained in memory at the point you left them. This means that you can jump straight back into them with a simple tap.
Android Jelly Bean's a winner, then, and the best thing is that it runs reasonably well even on modest hardware.
Not that the Archos 101 Platinum is obviously lacking on the power front. With an unnamed quad-core Cortex-A9 processor clocked at a respectable 1.6GHz, it's more than capable of handling general tablet tasks with ease.
Navigating through the Android OS is pretty much free of hitches, if not completely buttery smooth, and streaming HD video content doesn't cause it any problems.
Of course, with a somewhat dated mali-400 mp GPU, the 101 Platinum isn't at the very top of the Android tree when it comes to complex games. But then this is where that bog-standard screen resolution actually helps out – pushing fewer pixels means less of a hardware strain.
The consequence is that I was able to play advanced 3D games like Real Racing 3, a well-known system hog, at playable (if far from perfect) frame rates. But I'll tackle games in a little more detail later.
Though the Archos 101 Platinum comes with a reasonably recent version of the stock Android OS, it still rather mystifyingly features two Google web browsers. There's the old Android browser, and the more recent and fully featured Chrome browser.
Wisely, Archos has pushed Chrome to the fore, but it's still a little odd to be confronted by this choice long after Chrome has established itself as the default Android web browser.
It's a small and fairly common quibble to have, though, so I'll move on. Chrome itself is the same speedy tablet browsing experience I've experienced elsewhere.
To a large extent Chrome set the tone for modern mobile browsers maximising the limited available screen space by stripping back extraneous elements. It continues to lead the way in minimalist browser design, though Apple's latest version of iOS Safari has certainly closed the gap significantly.
Here you get that familiar unified address bar that combines searches and specific web addresses, alongside back, forward and refresh buttons. Bookmarking of the current web page and a voice input command have been incorporated into the end of the address bar, while additional options and settings can be accessed through a discrete menu bar.
Chrome handles multiple tabs effortlessly, and you can add as many as you like by hitting the appropriate tab shortcut at the top of the page. What's more, unlike other mobile browsers you get a little icon for each open web page, which makes navigating between them much easier.
The thoughtful touches continue when it comes to actually navigating through a specific web page. Start scrolling down and the navigation bar will disappear, thus devoting the entire screen to content. Bringing it back is a simple matter of scrolling back up again.
Double tap on a passage of text and Chrome will align and zoom in so that the portion is perfectly readable whichever way you're holding the 101 Platinum.
Then there's Chrome's killer feature - full account syncing between its mobile and desktop browsers. Sign in and you'll have access to all bookmarks saved from your computer, as well as your full search history across all of your devices.
General web performance on the Archos 101 Platinum is appreciably nippy, with even content-rich pages such as the TechRadar desktop homepage loading up completely in less than 10 seconds. Naturally you can see the bulk of the home screen content well before that.
As is the case with all 10.1-inch tablets, web content feels perfectly at home on such an expansive area of glass, with story text readily readable without the need for excessive zooming and panning.
Of course, text and images look more than a little fuzzy around the edges thanks to that behind-the-times standard definition screen resolution.
In short, browsing the web on the Archos 101 Platinum is quick and easy, but it's not especially easy on the eye. Ultra-modern websites that make use of high resolution images do not look at their best here, unlike on the Google Nexus 10 and iPad Air.
The same reservations surrounding the Archos 101 Platinum as a web browsing device affect its status as a movie player.
Its hardware is capable of handling HD 1080p or 720p video comfortably, and its 10.1-inch display is certainly the right size and aspect ratio for the job. But its less-than-ideal resolution means that you won't see such HD content in the best light.
Still, in terms of the accessibility of such content the Archos 101 Platinum is brilliant. As a stock Android tablet it leans wholly on the superb Google Play store for its media.
It's well stocked with the latest film and TV show releases, and pricing is competitive when compared to the likes of Amazon's online offering. Current movie releases generally cost £3.49 to rent or £9.99 to purchase.
What's more, the interface is clean and intuitive. If you're already invested in the wider Google ecosystem, the sign-up process will be effortless, verging on the non-existent. It's alarming how easy it is to get spending on movies through a Google device.
Archos has also included its own video-player app, unsurprisingly called Archos Video Player. Styled more like a file manager than a slick media player, with lists of folders within folders, it very much subscribes to the Archos way of function over form.
It's not pretty, but it's a decent way to find your installed video content, not to mention any media servers in the vicinity. In terms of file support, there's AVI, MP4, MOV, 3GP, MPG, PS, TS, MKV and FLV.
Music on the Archos 101 Platinum is handled much the same as movies. It leans on Google's own fine provision, Google Play Music, which is arguably an even better at what it does than Google Play Movies.
Google Music acts as a stylish music player, as well as a comprehensive MP3 music store. It also enables you to access your entire music collection via the cloud, provided you've taken the necessary steps to upload them from your computer. And considering it's free for the first 20,000 tracks, you really should.
More recently, Google had launched its own music subscription service called All Access, which lets you stream unlimited music to your Android device for £9.99 per month. This is accessible through the Google Music app too.
It's all handled seamlessly, which actually makes it tough to distinguish tracks you're listening to through All Access and those that you own.
This is good for general no-nonsense usability, but you might get a bit of a shock if you ever stop your All Access subscription and find a hefty chunk of 'your' music missing.
As with video, Archos has included its own Archos Music app, but I can see it being used very little with the all-conquering Google Music on board.
As I've noted already, the Archos 101 Platinum's speaker is pretty hopeless for playing media, and the tablet doesn't come with any headphones. You will definitely need to invest in a pair for any media consumption.
Given its chunky size and less than sharp screen, I wouldn't recommend using the Archos 101 Platinum as an ebook reader, but it's certainly possible. Again, Google provides a well stocked virtual shop in the shape of Google Play Books, with frequent deals and offers.
In truth, though, you'll probably want to download the free Kindle app from the Google Play Store in order to bring your (likely) existing library across. And that's just fine, although any direct Kindle shopping will have to be done through the Amazon website.
Apps, camera and battery life
The Google Play Store offers the largest number of smartphone apps around. Yep, even more than iOS.
While the average quality level isn't quite as high as on Apple's platform, Google has worked hard to whip its once-maligned app store into shape. It now offers most of the major apps from iOS at competitive prices.
In fact, most of the big hitters are completely free, including Evernote, Pocket, Pinterest, Netflix, Instagram and Flipboard. What's more, the Google Play Store is a simple joy to navigate for the newcomer.
Of course, even if the Google Play Store wasn't so well stocked, you'd still have the best selection of Google apps in the business. These alone should cover most of your productivity needs, and many of them come pre-installed on the Archos 101 Platinum.
Google Maps is the best mobile mapping tool in the business, Google Keep is a charming and lightweight note app, and Google Translate will get you out of any sticky holiday situation with its offline linguistic aid. Gmail, of course, has become the go-to email app for millions of people, and it's provided here as the default option.
Meanwhile, Google+ is like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr rolled into one, and Hangouts is a super-slick instant messaging and video calling service. There are plenty more handy Google apps where they came from, too.
When it comes to games, the Archos 101 Platinum is placed under a little extra strain. It'll handle the vast majority of the Google Play Store's offerings with ease, but some of the more complex 3D titles give it a few problems.
Ambitious console-style games like Real Racing 3, Respawnables and Dead Trigger 2 are all playable on the 101 Platinum, but I wouldn't say that they run perfectly.
The Archos 101 Platinum is fine for a little casual gaming, but it doesn't quite have the hardware chops - both in terms of its mid-range processor and its underwhelming screen - to sate serious gamers.
I neither expect nor require much from tablet cameras, but the Archos 101 Platinum's 2MP snapper is so bad, I honestly question the purpose of its inclusion other than an extra bullet point on the box.
Never mind the fact that it has the same megapixel count as a modern smartphone's front-facing camera, it's the sheer awfulness of the pictures it captures that really makes us wince.
Pictures lack any hint of sharpness, with an almost webcam-like fuzziness appearing at the edges and in the background of any scene. Colours, too, appear washed out, and any hint of dynamic range causes the camera all manner of problems. Bleached out skies and dull, lifeless foregrounds were common during the test period.
Video is a similarly poor affair, producing distinctly grainy and washed out results in a solitary sub-HD resolution.
In general use, the Archos 101 Platinum's camera is just fine. It utilises the stock Android UI, which is extremely sparse - to the point of feeling unfinished - but intuitive, with clear software buttons and pop-out menus.
I never recommend taking everyday pictures on a tablet, even when that tablet has a half-decent camera. So when I say that the Archos 101 Platinum sits somewhere near the bottom of the pile, I hope you'll get the point.
After a full working day of light usage, which involved checking email, watching a couple of video clips, playing several different games for a couple of minutes apiece, and a little light internet browsing, the Archos 101 Platinum used up a little over 20% of a full charge.
That's not bad at all for a tablet. This was backed up by TechRadar's usual battery test, which involves playing a 90 minute-long 720p video, with the screen brightness set to full.
This finished up with an average of 79% power left in the tank, which is pretty much par for the course for a modern Android device.
Hands on gallery
The Archos 101 Platinum is one of the cheapest full-sized tablets on the market, yet it still doesn't feel like particularly good value.
For the same £200 price you can get the smaller yet vastly-superior-in-every-way Nexus 7. You can also get the only-slightly-smaller Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9, which features a much sharper display and superior build quality.
Of course, here you're getting a pure Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean experience and quad-core performance, which isn't to be sniffed at.
But when the core experience is compromised by shoddy components and a sub-par screen resolution, as it is here, I'd recommend either downsizing or splashing out a little extra on a Google Nexus 10.
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£200 is undoubtedly cheap for a 10.1-inch quad-core tablet, whichever way you look at it.
That's especially so when you consider its relatively modern and unmolested OS. Stock Android Jelly Bean is always welcome around these parts.
Meanwhile the presence of a microSD slot - which is increasingly rare on Android devices - opens the way for cheap-but-bountiful memory expansion.
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The Archos 101 Platinum's build quality is dubious to say the least, with a toy-like snap-together feel to its construction.
I'd also question some of the design decisions at play here, such as squeezing all of the controls and ports onto a single edge, and including both a microUSB connection and a separate charger port.
I also find it difficult to recommend any modern tablet - budget or otherwise - with such a low-resolution display as this.
The market is crying out for a more affordable full-sized tablet alternative to the iPad, of that there's no doubt. But the Archos 101 Platinum simply makes too many compromises to be that device.
Its design and build quality are well below what I've come to expect, even from a tablet costing £200, and while it boasts a quad-core processor it's far from the speediest example.
Most of all, thanks to the likes of the Google Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and the Tesco Hudl, we've all come to expect a high definition experience from our budget tablets, and the Platinum is found severely lacking on this front.
If you really want a full-sized tablet for less than the price of an iPad, consider splashing out a little extra on the Google Nexus 10. Otherwise, go for one of the above compact alternatives. In either case, you'll be getting a lot more tablet for your money.